Brother and sister use TikTok to educate others about autism

Brittany McGuire, aka tacobellqween, went viral after sharing a TikTok of her brother, Ryan McGuire, reacting to her wearing a face mask. Ryan McGuire, 28, has autism and when people started asking Brittany McGuire, 25, about him, the siblings thought they could use her TikTok account to educate people about the autism. Brittany McGuire shares with TODAY how TikTok has strengthened their relationship while helping others better understand autism.

When I captured Ryan’s reaction when I was wearing the face mask, I thought it was a fun moment people would enjoy. Little did I know this would go viral and we would start using social media to educate others about his autism. While many enjoyed seeing Ryan and I hanging out, the questions poured in and some of them felt intrusive and offensive.

The times we hang out together really give insight into what he loves and who he is in a way that autism facts can’t.

Growing up, Ryan McGuire loved the sport so much that his sister Brittany McGuire found it hard to follow his interest. They have now linked on his TikTok account. Courtesy of Brittany McGuire

Ryan has no social media and I try to shield him from any hurtful questions. A lot of people ask what’s wrong with Ryan and my instinct is to say everything is fine with him. But instead of throwing out witty replies, Ryan and I are doing TikToks. I don’t think people realize that some of the things they said are offensive and most people are really curious about Ryan and autism. So we help them understand better. We have a TikTok where I asked him what autism means to him. He shared that he doesn’t see autism as a disease but as a disorder. He explained that he often does things differently from others and deals with things his own way, but still has thoughts and feelings like anyone else. Hearing Ryan’s perspective is powerful and enlightening. But we don’t just share autism facts, we have fun too. Ryan tries viral dances with me, he’s shared his reaction to the University of North Carolina’s Final Four win (and his contempt for Duke), he offers sports tips or trivia, and we share videos of social activities that we enjoy together. The times we hang out together really give insight into what he loves and who he is in a way that autism facts can’t. This allows Ryan to show all of his sides, like when he signed at my grandmother’s memorial because she always loved watching him sign.

When I created my TikTok account, it was mainly to follow viral dance trends. I’m a dance coach at the local high school and all the students loved it. I had no idea this would be a way for Ryan and I to get closer. Growing up, I didn’t understand how to relate to him. He loves sports – he’s a walking encyclopedia of sports anecdotes. I was trying to talk about sports, but I knew so little and he knew so much. Sometimes I felt like a bad sister because I couldn’t connect with him.

Growing up, Brittany McGuire worried that she wasn't a good enough sister to Ryan McGuire.  They now share such a close relationship that she feels grateful to have.
Growing up, Brittany McGuire worried that she wasn’t a good enough sister to Ryan McGuire. They now share such a close relationship that she feels grateful to have.Courtesy of Brittany McGuire

Doing TikToks brought us closer together and helped me understand him better. I feel more patient with him and it’s become a fun way to bond. We only film when he’s gone and if he’s not in the right frame of mind we film another day. But often, he will ask to make one. He might mention that we didn’t do any “One day advice“, what we call TikToks where Ryan offers advice, for a while and he will ask us to do one. While my mom and I often think about what topics to cover, Ryan is the expert.

We also share our brotherly relationship. Sometimes people think I sound mean if my tone isn’t totally upbeat. But it’s another way to kindly inform others. Many people think they should talk to people with autism like a baby. But Ryan doesn’t want that, and it’s likely other autistic people wouldn’t like to be talked to like that either. I understand that I have to be aware of some of the things I say and do because of the way Ryan handles things, but I treat him like I would anyone else.

Brittany McGuire lived with her brother Ryan McGuire and their mother until recently when she moved in with a friend.  She still visits regularly and documents their relationship on TikTok.
Brittany McGuire lived with her brother Ryan McGuire and their mother until recently when she moved in with a friend. She still visits regularly and documents their relationship on TikTok.Courtesy of Brittany McGuire

TikTok also helped Ryan come out of his shell. He is more outgoing and willing to take risks. When I told him we were going to come TODAY, I knew he would have a lot of questions. He doesn’t like to fly because he is dizzy and I knew he would be curious how we would spend our time in New York. So when I told him about this opportunity, I was armed with information to help reassure him. Then he was excited. He loves having had the opportunity to have new experiences, like when he threw the first pitch at a Richmond Flying Squirrels baseball game or met country singer Lauren Alaina, his favorite celebrity.

Through TikTok, Ryan is sharing his story with the world and helping others better understand people with autism. But for me, having something we do together that helps us bond and spend time together is priceless and that’s what I always hoped we would share.

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